The Florida Aquarium has launched a new corporate plan that looks to increase support from businesses while simultaneously expanding its mission as a conservation and animal care organization.
While that description may sound like an expansive way of saying the popular Tampa attraction found a new way to raise money, the reality is that in a time of economic uncertainty the aquarium has developed a plan it says can both help bring in new revenue, solidify its place as a cultural institution and allow donors, and their employees, to give back to the community.
“The Florida Aquarium has had connections with, it's gotten support from, corporations and businesses over time. But one of the things that we recognized and realized is that there are more businesses coming here and looking for ways to get involved and that the businesses that are here are seeing us a little bit differently and want to know how they can get involved,” says CEO Roger Germann.
“While we were off doing some engagement, what we recognized was we really need more of a formal plan.”
That plan is called the Corporate Connect program.
The program, which works like a business membership plan, brings in companies that “provide critical unrestricted operating support” for the aquarium’s work in animal care, conservation and education. In return, the companies get perks that can trickle back to employees.
There are four separate levels of sponsorship, with the top level costing $75,000 and the lowest $10,000.
Those who join get a host of benefits, including behind the scene tours; discounts for facility rentals; membership passes; guest passes; and recognition.
The membership also gives companies ways for employees to volunteer, including participating in customized projects like beach clean-ups, mangrove plantings or habitat restorations. Employees can also participate on established volunteer days.
Germann says the program allows companies to put their money into a worthwhile cause while also giving employees the benefits of the aquarium and an avenue to participate. It acts, in a way, as both altruism and employee retention, he says.
“There are many business leaders that want to give back and they want to be part of a community and they recognize the assets that are here,” says Germann. “So it became very, very clear we needed to put together a very robust, comprehensive corporate program to grow and get them involved.”
The aquarium quietly launched the program in the fall and already has seven companies signed up, including Power Design, Celestar Corp., SouthState Bank and PAR Inc. It recently started introducing the program to more companies and publicizing it.
The Corporate Connect program comes at a time when the region is becoming a destination for companies relocating and growing the local labor force. This type of growth means the Florida Aquarium has a chance to introduce itself to a whole new batch of people and to highlight its offerings to those who have been there.
With that, Germann says, comes an opportunity for the aquarium to solidify itself as one of the touchstone cultural institutions in the region.
Germann took over as CEO of the aquarium in 2017, coming to Tampa from Chicago, where he’d been the executive vice president at the John G. Shedd Aquarium for 16 years.
Before starting at the Shedd Aquarium, he worked in TV and radio before going to work for the state of Illinois. That background is important because he came to work in the conversation and animal care field from the outside, giving him a different perspective. He sees his job, in a way, as a caretaker of the organization, making sure the Florida Aquarium is able to follow its mission while growing.
To that end, it recently announced a $40-million expansion plan that will include an outdoor sea lion habitat. In addition, Germann and his team are focused on the task of reminding people that the Florida Aquarium is more than just an attraction, that it’s nonprofit with a mission. And that is one of the main reasons it started the Corporate Connect program, Germann says.
“It's a great way to bring what the mission is at the aquarium and their company — their philosophy and what they hold as values — and bring it all together to the betterment of our environment and our community.”